Friday, 28 May 2021

Shades of grey (and white)

Moth numbers continue very sparse and the increase in types continues at a snail's pace. Here indeed is a snail, above, fortunately the other side of the trap's transparent cowl from a roosting Green Carpet. That night - Wednesday just gone, I only had Green Carpets, a couple of caddisflies, my first Maybug or cockchafer of the year and three Muslin moths.

The last got me interested, though, because of their colour variations, especially the one with 'eyes' on its wings. This in turn led me to the Moth Bible and I realised that in all my16 years of trapping, I have knowingly seen the female of this very common species.

I say 'knowingly' because she is quite similar to a White Ermine, another common though beautiful regular which will be here soon, and I may have dismissed one by looking too casually through the eggboxes. She is completely different from the male, white instead of grey, flies by day and is active in sunshine. He is nocturnal and is the only one which comes to light.  You can see from the picture of one from below how closely the body of both sexes is to the White Ermine's.

What a curious arrangement!  The Jack and Jill Spratt of moths.

Monday, 24 May 2021

Yellow and Green

Two cheerful arrivals signal the start of sunnier days, I hope: the Brimstone moth and the Green Carpet. Both have been regular visitors during my 18 years of moth-trapping but it is still a delight to greet them after the duller months of Winter.

The Green Carpet by contrast resembles the camouflage fatigues worn by ground troops, or indeed by a surprising number of people, women as well as men, out shopping today. It is a delicate little visitor, very quick to take fright and flutter off from the trap, as happened yesterday morning. There were ten of them inside, however, so I had plenty of second chances to take these pictures.

A further feature of the Brimstone, which is partly a day-flying moth, is that it prefers to be outside the trap rather than nestling in the warmth of the eggboxes. I quite often find them later in the day, still snoozing near to where the trap had been, but overlooked by me on my early morning inspection. 

Talking of early morning, there are so many things which make an early rising a pleasure at this time of the year and until the dark returns. One of them is the dew, whose perfect little spheres can be seen in the Brimstone photos.

Six of the ten Green Carpets. They have a liking for the bowl's walls


Thursday, 20 May 2021

Birthday magic

It's always a big day for me when the year's first hawk moth arrives, and this season has lived up to expectations. Although the weather continues unpredictable and mostly poor,  the grandchildren had an answer to this.

It was my birthday on Tuesday and we were down in London helping to look after them - three of them, now; it's going to be a job for life. The older two gave me lovely cards, both with a mothy theme, and suggested that I put them in the trap where their beauty would shine out amid the eggboxes and the dreary weather and attract interesting visitors.

"Put them in the moth trap straight away when you get back - even before you wash your hands," said the younger one, whose devotion to covid rules is tremendous. Penny and I thought for a while that he must have an amazing number of friends because he is always singing 'Happy Birthday to you.' We should have realised that he is following Government instructions to sing the song twice when you wash your hands.

Anyway, the cards did attract moths: two Poplar Hawks - although I have to admit that one of them was on the grass outside the trap. I don't think that this has ever happened to me before with a hawk moth, although plenty of other species are either content nearby or scared to go in. 

It was surprising that the moth, above, had not been noticed by birds although it was very obvious to the human eye. The key was probably sitting entirely still and perhaps the ragged and slightly leaf-like structure of its wings.

It's also interesting to contrast the moths in these pictures of them on the cards. I need to check if the different tail on the top one is the claspers of a male or the receptor of a female. If the first, then they have got the right gender of the cards as well.

I always check back to previous 'firsts' with the hawk moths and I had to go all the way to 2013, our first year here, to find a debut later than this - just two days: 22 May. My other records, from 2014, are: May 2, 1, 12, 6, 7 and 10. Last year, which was notably warm albeit still with some late frosts,  saw an exceptionally early 'first' on April 26 and by this time I had already recorded a further five hawk species; Lime, Eyed, Pine, Elephant and Small Elephant, leaving only the Privet and Hummingbird among my regulars still to come. 

Things remain quiet otherwise. The only other arrivals were three Muslin moths, one of them with the Poplar Hawk on the second card above, and the Rustic Shoulder-knot below.

Friday, 14 May 2021

All natural life is here


I have dawdled in bringing my posts up to date because of a prolonged spell of cold weather - see the frost on my small pic, left -  which has now been followed by rather a lot of rain. The trap has either been snugly stored in the shed or sparsely populated but there have been one or two nice arrivals and here they are.

Above is the handsome Swallow Prominent with its rakish looks and habit of stretching out its forlegs like a cat, a pose common to most of the family of Prominent moths. Then below we have the Muslin moth, a sort-of Quaker relative of the White Ermine which quite often has pale blotches and bands on its grey coat, as in the lower example here; perhaps some Ermine genes are straining to show through. The bodies of the Muslin and the White Ermine are extremely similar; the top moth was so soundly asleep that it rolled over to make the point without stirring.

The grandchildren came to visit and the moths obliged with a well-varied guest list. Here below are enough different species to take up quite a few of Emily's fingers: Powdered Quaker, Brindled Beauty, Early Grey, Hebrew Character and in the next two pictures, a Pale Prominent - such an odd-looking creature - which relocated to London and was released there, alive and well.

Finally, so far as the moths are concerned, a neighbour up the road found this lovely female Emperor moth, below, on her garden shed a week or so ago. I wonder if she is part of the great dynasty stemming from the glorious moth whose picture tops this blog She visited me in May 2014 and left me some eggs which hatched and were the start of four generations bred here whose progress I've recorded many times eg here and here and here.  Many thanks for the use of the excellent photo.  I have yet to see one this year, but here's hoping.

Elsewhere in the wild world, Penny and I have much enjoyed a series of Spring sights, including masses of Brimstone butterflies, Speckled Woods, Holly Blues and - shown below - Peacocks and Orange Tips.

Meanwhile, ducklings are growing rapidly on the canal, Canada Geese ditto at Blenheim Park and today we encountered this excellently tame bunny in a warren by the Thames between Godstow and the lovely Perch pub. It seemed to be too small and inexperienced to understand potential threats. Let's hope it learns soon, but thank you for posing in the meanwhile.

And lastly, something unexpected: a lizard curled up in one the allotment's drystone walls: